Today marks International Women’s Day* which celebrates the achievements of women across the world. Here at East Ren Greens HQ, we decided to take a look at women from East Renfrewshire who have made their mark on the world.
Helen Crawfurd was a Scottish suffragette and an active member of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). She was arrested many times for her activism and went on hunger strike whilst she was imprisoned. The outbreak of war resulted in all WSPU activities being suspended and its members were advised to devote themselves to war work. Helen, like many other women, left the WSPU due it its pro-war stance and became heavily involved in the social movement known as ‘Red Clydeside’; in particular the rent strikes. Private landlords in Govan and Partick used the war to their advantage and raised the rents of many working class women, who had been left to support their families whilst their husbands were drafted in the army. Many women were left unable to pay their rents and faced eviction. Mary Barbour become a leading voice in this movement, which saw women barricading closes to prevent evictions taking place and, a common tactic, humiliating bailiffs by covering them in flour and water (if they were lucky….), pushing them out into the street and pulling their trousers down!
Mrs Barbour’s Army, as they become known, fought their campaign and eventually resulted in the government passing legislation banning private landlords from raising rents during their period of war. Helen Crawfurd was one of many women who played an important role in this process.
Helen’s paternal great-grandfather, William Jack, owned the smiddy in Eaglesham hence her family connection to East Renfrewshire.
Kate Maclean (later Beaton) is given a brief mention in the history of Neilston. In 1910, women working in one of the thread mills in the town put forward demands for higher wages. Management refused and the women left the mill to go on strike. On the advice of John Maclean, the women organised themselves into a trade union with Kate taking a prominent role. A plan was made to march from Neilston to the mill owner’s home in Pollokshields in the suburbs of Glasgow. The direct action worked as the owner agreed to meet the women’s demands and wages were raised, partly thanks to Kate’s organising skills.
Marianne Grant was born in Prague in 1921 and was a relation of Frank Kafka – and Jewish. She was a survivor of many Nazi concentration camps and ghettos, including Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. Her remarkable talent for art resulted in her being forced to produce work for Dr Joseph Mengele whilst she was incarcerated at Auschwitz. Marianne was freed from Bergen-Belsen in 1945 and relocated to Newton Mearns in 1951 where she remained until her death in 2007. In 2002 an exhibition of her artworks was installed at People’s Palace and a publication, I knew I was painting for my life: the Holocaust artworks of Marianne Grant, was released the same year. Copies of Marianne’s book can be borrowed from branches of East Renfrewshire libraries .
The BBC interviewed Marianne about her life and experiences in 2003, as part of Holocaust Remembrance Day. An archive recording of this fascinating interview can be listened to here.
We’re still looking for remarkable women, of the past and present, with connections to East Renfrewshire. Only one woman of note is listed on the East Renfrewshire Heritage Service website. Yet there must be more women in the local area whose achievements have been forgotten by history. Is there a woman who deserves to be showcased on our blog? Then get in touch!